The Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art opened Friday its latest show called Young Contemporaries. Kevin Murphy went to check it out and sent us this review. The annual juried student exhibition will be on view until April 25.
Young Contemporaries shows artists busy growing up
By Kevin Murphy
If your impression of an art major is a hipster with grubby fingers and a ten speed, the 23rd annual Young Contemporaries exhibit, which opened last week at the College of Charleston’s Halsey Institute, is out to prove you’re right.
But there’s much more here than first impressions.
The exhibit features 75 pieces of widely varied art, displays them on walls and floors, and offers students long-awaited, much-needed exposure. The exhibit offers new work to the public. For better or worse it signifies a pivotal period in a series of young careers, which will no doubt be reflected upon with tenderness, yearning, and perhaps a little embarrassment.
Art fills the gallery with the same assortment, claustrophobia, and charm as a jammed lecture hall. Subjects range from glimpses of nature to New York’s subway system, from the intimacies of dorm life to the terror of medieval dentistry. However stylistically diffuse it may seem, “Young Contemporaries” is fundamentally a survey, providing a view of the substance hanging in the ether.
First you’ll encounter Conrad Guevara’s sculpture, “Teeth Puller.” It imagines what could happen if the Jolly Green Giant turned wicked and wanted your teeth instead of green beans. Huge rusted sheers clamp a pair of equally colossal dentures. The piece rests motionless on a low white platform inches above the floor. But it has an unpredictability that makes it tense and attractive, as if your touch might stir it into frenzy.
The exhibit’s photography offers an assortment of black-and-white images illustrating introspection and the lonely search for identity. Meg McLean uses two young women close in age but in opposite states of mind. The immediate contrast between the women’s demeanors, one seductive and mysterious, the other relaxed and contemplative, reveals a moodiness that makes you linger.
Kiera Summers splashes the exhibit with an interesting abstract piece that’s untitled, as are many of the pieces in the gallery, and so falls further away from definition or school of thought. A pistol of red shoots across the painting’s equator and exacts attention as muted greens, yellows, and oranges sink behind a thick blue texture. The painting has a controlled chaos, and shows its creator to be a young artist in tune with her charge.
An alternative charge is felt by Morgan Blaich’s sculpture, “Tank.” Blaich uses steel, chicken wire, and stuffed animals to construct her piece. Familiar and normally intimidating as a steamrolling military weapon, “Tank” has been transformed into a playfully idle muse-piece that challenges the mindset of violence by instilling humor and goodwill. Picture a Vietnam protestor sliding a flower into a gun and the same sardonic attempt at peace becomes apparent.
Young Contemporaries is an ambitious and charitable exhibit. It challenges our attention by lacking cohesion. But is also provides a panoramic insight into Charleston’s blossoming artists. Many of the artists are still honing their crafts, which sometimes result in pieces that are timid and shaky. Others have already, precociously found their stride. In this type of exhibit everything is a work in progress, lending the experience a sense of relief, optimism, and camaraderie.
As students, artists are free to roam; they seek and destroy and then create anew. These traits will likely follow them as they step into professional lives. But it is only now, as they create within the cocoon of college life, that their work will be safe from the compromises of the art marketplace.
On view through April 25
Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art
College of Charleston
54 St. Philip St.